Last month during the Onam celebrations, in a colony near my home, a woman tried to commit suicide by jumping into a well. We managed to pull her out and somebody called the 108. Since it was a remote location the ambulance took some time to reach there. But once the siren started to reach us, all the people who had been dispersing immediately crowded back and the arrival of the 108 was greeted with much whistling and clapping! Children could be heard running and shouting “108 has come! 108 has come!” as if their favorite movie star had just walked into their homes. The paramedics and the driver were no doubt bewildered at the welcome they got. Older women crowded around them to ask their name and their homes. Someone even pinched the driver – maybe just to make sure that the famous 108 had truly arrived. The paramedics were frantically asking about the injured person and that is when we finally came to our senses and to our horror we found the woman lying abandoned in the mattress by the roadside where we had first laid her down. Once we got her into the ambulance there was a scramble for others to get in. One of our friends too got in the front. We asked “Why the hell are you going?” and he cheerily waved to us and said “I’m not going to miss this chance! It is now or never!” and we watched him with envy as he shook hands with the driver and posed for the guys to take photos in their mobiles. Usually a suicide attempt makes neighbours or relatives hesitant to accompany the victim to the hospital due to the police affairs and other complications that may arise. However with 108 that has changed too. People are fighting to get inside just to be able to say they have traveled in the 108.
The 108 ambulance is the latest talk of the town, having universally impressed everyone with their prompt and efficient service. It is the first time any city in Kerala has a systematic ERS - Emergency Response Service. 108 is a toll-free number, the biggest advantage, accessible from any landline or mobile. And it is absolutely free.
The loud siren has become a distinctive sign of the coming ambulance. And what a wonderful sight it is to behold, flashing all the colours - red, blue, orange – just like the arrival of a carnival.
The 108 has no doubt changed the face of medical response services. The waiting for an ill-equipped ambulance and the haranguing over the rate has all almost vanished. It is an initiative under Kerala Emergency Medical Services Project (KEMP) by the Kerala Government’s Health Department in association with the National Rural Health Mission (NHRM).
My house is located by the side of the by-pass road which is a preferred route for the 108 to the Medical College. The siren has become so familiar to us that even in our deepest sleep if a 108 passes through, we mumble “108!” and smile.